“Education has never been more important.” As a management and marketing consultant, I meet with business leaders who express this statement to me on an almost daily basis. Many of my clients struggle to find educated, qualified individuals to fill job openings. However, at the same time, I believe there is a growing movement of attack on higher education. Its relevance, quality, cost, and return-on-investment have never been questioned as much as they are today. Higher education is not the only learning option out there. However, it still remains the most credible option. I believe that higher education institutions should not take that for granted. The ability to adapt to rapidly changing expectations of students, employers, and other stakeholders is something that most colleges and universities will have to address sooner rather than later. I believe that some institutions have had a more entrepreneurial learning vision and are not afraid to experiment with new models that may challenge the status quo. These new leaders often aren’t instantly recognized, and instead, may initially face more criticisms than congratulations. However, I believe over the long run this risk-taking, flexibility, and most importantly, institutional learning will help to ensure that higher education remains accessible, respected, and valued. A key component of this is reaching out and engaging populations that typically would not consider a college degree as part of the path toward a better future.
I believe a strong academic environment encourages students to learn, process, and communicate not only with instructors, but also with each other. Appreciating and respecting experiences that students can bring to the learning environment is a key method of engaging them in learning and recognizing their important role in the classroom. I feel strongly that I can help students without giving them a “free pass”. Often, this comes by being proactive and noticing when students are struggling with content. I know some faculty members who insist that “students are adults” and it is each student’s responsibility to take the first step in seeking extra assistance when he or she has questions or is falling behind. During my time as an adjunct instructor, I have found the opposite to be true. When it is obvious that a student is struggling, I believe it’s my job to assist in that student’s individual success. I’ve found that by being more proactive, I also witness fewer issues with grade challenges, cheating, and other actions that try to undermine academic integrity.
No classroom is equal and I expect that each group of students I work with will include a wide range of skills and abilities. Getting to know the students, reading their work, and offering immediate feedback is one way I’ve found to quickly assess where students are and how I can best adjust the course for different levels of student preparedness. Given the nature of semesters, terms, or other scheduling formats, each class naturally comes with a limited amount of time to make progress. I like to set realistic expectations of how far an individual student can move from one point to another during a semester. As long as that output demonstrates progress and can still match the necessary learning outcomes (even if other students are further ahead), I believe we have achieved a reasonable accomplishment.